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PSALM XIX-VERSE 14.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be ac
ceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
I HAVE made choice of these words, with which the holy Psalmist shuts up this nineteenth Psalm, intending to open to you the scheme of thought which runs through the whole. It contains one of the completest forms of devotion, and of the most general use, of those recorded in his writings. When his thoughts turn on his own circumstances, which were in all respects great and uncommon, and such as the generality of men can never experience, it is no wonder to find his prayers and his songs of praises conceived in no common strain. When a king stands before the altar, we may well expect a royal sacrifice; such an one as is not expected from a private hand, nor fit to be offered by it. But here, in the Psalm before you, the crown and the sceptre are laid by, his own dignity is forgotten, and his whole mind employed in contemplating the mighty things of Providence, displayed in the works of nature and of grace. Exalted thoughts of God do naturally produce the lowest, which are always the justest, of ourselves. Thus the royal Psalmist, having warmed his heart with the glory of the Almighty, as if he were now in the posture in which all kings must one day appear before their Maker, confesses his own weakness, and flies to mercy and grace for protection: Who can understand his errors ?'
says he, cleanse thou me from my secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.'
The piety of this Psalm is so natural, and yet so exalted;
so easy to be understood, so adapted to move the affections, that it is hardly possible to read it with any attention, without feeling something of the same spirit by which it was indited : • The heavens,' says the holy king, “declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handy work. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowlege. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. He begins with the works of the creation, to magnify the power and wisdom of the Creator; they are a perpetual instruction to mankind; every day and every night speak his goodness, and by their regular and constant vicissitude, set forth the excellency of wisdom by which they are ordered. This book of nature is written in every language, and lies open to all the world : the works of the creation speak in the common voice of reason, and want no interpreter to explain their meaning ; but are to be understood by people of all languages on the face of the earth : “ There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.' From these works in general he singles out one, to stand as a testimony of the power of his Maker : the sun is the great spirit of the world, the life that animates these lower parts : how constant and unwearied is his course! how large his circuit, to impart light and genial heat to every dark corner of the earth ! · He is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to
His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it; and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.'
From this mighty scene and prospect of nature the Psalmist turns his thoughts to the consideration of the still greater works of grace: the rational world, as in itself the noblest, so has it been the more peculiar care of Providence to preserve and adorn it. The sun knows its course, and has always trod the path marked out by the Creator : the sea keeps its old channel, and in its utmost fury remembers the first law of its Maker, * Hitherto shalt thou go, and no farther:' but freedom and reason, subject to no such restraint, have produced infinite variety in the rational world : of all the creatures man only could forget his Maker and himself, and prostitute the honor of both by robbing God of the obedience due to him,
run a race.
and by submitting himself a slave to the elements of the world. When he looked up to the heavens and saw the glory of the sun and stars, instead of praising the Lord of all, he foolishly said, these are thy gods, O man! When man was thus lost in ignorance and superstition, God manifested himself again, gave him a law to direct his will and inform his reason, and to teach him in all things how to pursue his own happiness. This was a kind of second creation, a work that calls as much both for our wonder and our praise as any or all the works of nature. And thus the holy Psalmist sings the triumphs of grace, and extols the mercy and power of God in the restoring mankind from the bondage of ignorance and idolatry: • The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul : the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple: the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart : the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes : the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever : the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold ; sweeter also than honey, and the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is thy servant warned; and in keeping them there is great reward.' To these divine oracles the inner owes the conversion of his soul : to the light of God's word the simple owes his wisdom; nay, even the pleasures of life, and all the solid comforts we enjoy, flow from the same living spring: the statutes of the Lord do rejoice the heart as well as enlighten the eyes; and not only show us the danger and miseries of iniquity, and by showing teach us to avoid them, but do lead us likewise to certain happiness and joy for
' for in keeping them there is great reward.' But is it possible, whilst thus we praise and adore God for all his mercies, to forget one great circumstance which affects both them and ourselves ? I mean, how undeserved they are ! It is a reflexion, which, like the pillar of the cloud that waited on the Israelites, casts light and beauty on the mercies of God, darkness and confusion of face on ourselves. Can we help thinking, that, notwithstanding God has thus secured and hedged us about with a law that is perfect, with commandments that are pure, with judgments that are true and righteous
altogether; yet still our own weakness is perpetually betraying us into error, our folly or our wickedness driving us into sins more in number than either we can or care to remember? The foyal Psalmist saw the justness of this reflexion, and whilst his heart glowed with the sense of God's unbounded mercies, he turned short on himself with this complaint, • Who can understand his errors ?'
This complaint is followed by a fervent prayer to God for pardon and protection : from the prospect of the power and goodness of God and our own weakness and misery, the soul easily melts into sorrow and devotion, lamenting what it feels, and imploring what it wants from the hand which only is able to save and to redeem : “O cleanse thou me,' says the royal penitent, 'from secret faults.' This petition flowed from an heart intimately touched with the sense of its own unworthiness : secret he calls his faults, not with a design to extenuate his crimes, or as if he thought the actions he had now in his view of so doubtful a nature, that it was not easily to be judged whether they should be placed among the sinful or the indifferent circumstances of his life ; and therefore, if they were faults, they were secret ones, such as stole from him without the consent or approbation of his mind: but secret he calls them with respect to their number; so often he had offended, that his memory was too frail to keep an exact register of all his errors; but though they were secret to him, yet well he knew that God had placed them in the light of his countenance; and therefore, though he could neither number nor confess them, he begs that they might not be imputed, or rise up in judgment against his soul. This sense is well expressed in our old translation, . Who can tell how oft he offendeth ? ( cleanse thou me from my secret faults !'
But though our sins are more in number than the hairs of our head, yet some there are that stand distinguished by an uncommon guilt, and will always be present to our minds, whenever we approach the throne of grace for pardon. These we should particularly lament, against these we should particularly pray, when we seek to God for strength and assistance. In this strain the holy Psalmist continues his devotion, · Keep
back thy servant also from presumptuous sins ; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.'
Having thus extolled his Maker for the greatness of his power and mercy, and humbled himself for the number and the heinousness of his iniquities, he closes this scene of praise and of devotion in the language of the text, Let the words of my
· mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.'
I have endeavored to open to you the scheme of thought which runs through this excellent pattern of prayer and meditation ; hoping by this more effectually to warm your minds into a sense of this duty, and to set before you in a better light the beauty both of praise and prayer, when duly performed, and accompanied with proper affections of the heart, than by any thing I could say to you on the subject. It is a subject indeed that speaks for itself; and a prayer, or a song of praise, composed in the true spirit of piety and devotion, is the greatest incitement, as well as the best direction, for the performance of the respective duties. A man's heart must be as cold as marble, who can read or hear the songs of holy joy and rapture, with which the saints of old gave praise to their Maker, and not feel some resentments of the same spirit of joy and gratitude in his breast; or who can go over a prayer which expresses the guilt of sin, and confesses the weakness of nature, and pours forth the cries of an afflicted soul for mercy and pardon, and not be touched with the description of circumstances which are so much his own; or not send forth the wishes of his own heart to attend the cries for
and pardon, which he so certainly stands in need of obtaining. A scene of misery, drawn either by the poet's or the painter's skill, has force enough to move the pity of a compassionate heart; for we are so near allied to the sufferings of our fellowcreatures, by sharing in the same nature, which as it subjected them, so it exposes us to the miseries we behold, that we cannot resist the impressions of sorrow arising from circumstances which may any day happen to be our own; much less can we stand by, as unconcerned lookers on, when we behold the misery of a soul afflicted for sin, or when we hear the ardent